By Brian Williams, Anchor and managing editor
On the first feed of the broadcast tonight, a promised candlelight vigil became a series of hyper-amplified speeches, 50 yards behind us while we were on live television. From the very first plans we made to do the broadcast live from a grassy hillside across from the Lorraine Motel, we were promised (by event organizers) in no uncertain terms that it would be quiet -- if anything, there were concerns expressed early on, that if we made too much noise, we risked appearing disrespectful. It turned out silence wasn't the problem. Quite the opposite. Making it worse: we were interviewing Sen. John McCain on live television. The noise was deafening. The speeches started a few minutes before we went on the air, and as I write this, almost two hours after our first broadcast began, the speeches are still going on. While the Senator and I were struggling to hear each other, we assumed the audience could hear us. Senator McCain and I were equipped with only the standard lapel microphones -- and while I was later given a directional, noise-filtering hand-held microphone for later segments, the damage was done to our broadcast, to our massive commitment to cover a solemn event, to Senator McCain and the points he was making in responding to my questions, on our air. Sometimes in this business, the air product (what people are watching at home) isn't as bad as it seems to us in the field. In this case, it was worse. Because I was at the center of it, and I could not know how bad a viewing experience it was, I did not know to apologize while it was happening -- and I believe in apologizing immediately and forthrightly for mistakes we make. Had I known how bad it was, I would have moved heaven and earth to fix it. I would have moved the entire broadcast, on live television, inside the quiet confines of the Civil Rights museum. The McCain folks are angry, justifiably so. So are we.
At least I can apologize now. To our audience, and to Senator McCain, who went to great lengths to be with us for the live broadcast. We will endeavor to set things right with the Senator, and offer him airtime -- the quiet kind -- to allow him to be heard.
April 4, 2008